Benjamin2004-09-21
Thoughts on Reliablism

I have just finished reading Steup's highly accessible Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology, and have just started reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Fascinating how well the two work together -- I just love biblio-syncronicity like that.
At any rate, while reading Steup I had a rather low view of Reliablism. It seemed to me (and still does, at times) that false beliefs will work reliably even outside of the Demon-World. For example, the belief 'Women are Unsuited to Scientific Thought' might have been a very reliable one in the 1650's, when Eliza de la Zeur was essentially the only female Natural Philosopher around -- but did that make it a justified belief? Surely Reliablism can only reflect the world as it is perceived, which I suppose is kind of the point of Internalism, but it still seems fishy to me.
On the other hand, I was infuriated by Robert Pirsig when he insisted that the Law of Gravity could not have existed before Newton, as if it had come into being when he first thought about it, and didn't exist before. What rubbish! Clearly Newton was describing something that had existed long before. In fact, one could argue that there was a law of gravity before Newton -- unless everyone in the world all thought 'If I drop this apple, if will hang in space just under my hand, or else it will fly up into space' then they had their own law of gravity. Newton's was just much more well defined.
Pirsig gets on these long 1960's-style new-agey rants against scientific method, &c. and it annoys me. It annoys me because he claims that the scientific method is an arbitrary way of viewing the world that we are taught in school, in the same way that Catholics learn church dogma. I have heard that nonsense before, and it is ridiculous. I defy anyone to show a case where an isolated individual spontaneously came up with correct church dogma. Sitting in her armchair, conducting experiments, suddenly she devises the Hail Mary and uses it to do penance. Later in life she is excited to learn that she developed the exact same Hail Mary that the Roman Church had been using for years...
In other words, Church dogma is arbitrary, and springs from the minds of humans. Scientific 'dogma' is based on experimental evidence. You don't like Newton's gravity? Go test it out for yourself. You are guaranteed to either get the exact same results the he did, or else you are guaranteed change the dogma. Sometimes it may be difficult to explain your experiments to others, but once everyone understands and verifies that Newton was wrong, the Law of Gravity will be changed.
I could rant about that for hours, but the point here is that the reason science works is because it is reliable. I feel passionately about that, and so maybe I'm not being fair to all the Reliablists out there (Goldman eat all.).
And Katya's a Skeptic, at heart, trapped in her vat. Maybe she likes it in there, it might be a comfy vat. Mine's a little small, I'm thinking of adding on another wing.

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